In light of the events of the past couple of weeks, I’m going to step away from fitness and cancer for a moment. This blog is not a political or morality blog; it’s about fitness and cancer. But today I’ll stick my toes outside of my normal circle because it’s been impossible not to be thinking about and deeply troubled by recent events and reactions.
Last week I had been working on an essay about, in part, the weeks and months after 9/11. For a few days, I had been steeped in memories of terror and the goodness that arose from it. And then I turned on the TV to watch The NewsHour while I ate dinner. Images in real time flashed in front of me – my beloved Paris, awash in sirens and blood and fear. Of course, it’s not just Paris that I mourned. It’s also Syria, Lebanon, Russia’s plane, Nigeria, Mali, and the list goes on.
And then there was the expected backlash, but this time so much angrier than before. I have been ashamed of some of the hate-filled comments, which, to my ears, sound no different from the terrorists’ words.
I have no solutions, no answers for the big problems of the world. I have only a broken heart and sincere prayers for peace and comfort.
Instead of going further down this road, I want to veer onto another path. I want to turn to what’s close at hand. In the same way I think about fitness – taking small steps, making small changes, improving our bodies and lives with our choices – I would offer that one way to respond to chaos in the world is to look closely at ourselves and take the small steps that could make real improvement around us. Instead of shouting about hatred, try actually helping someone – especially someone who’s not just like you.
But that’s just naive, why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along crap, you’re probably thinking. Yes, of course it is. It’s not going to fix the world. But perhaps, it might make a tiny corner of it just a little better. Perhaps instead of shouting about how the government has to close our borders and kick people out (talk which can only be called hypocritical in a country which is completely made up of immigrants), some people could actually do something useful, like volunteer at a soup kitchen in their town, donate clothing to homeless vets, feed hungry families, teach people how to read, clean up a local park so others can enjoy it, volunteer to clean up or rebuild synagogues, churches and mosques when they are damaged or destroyed by our own local terrorists (because a whole lot of heartbreak and damage in this country is caused not by radical Muslims, but by terrorists who are angry white men).
No, none of these actions will “cure” terrorism. Like with cancer, taking small steps like going for a walk will not “cure” the disease. But, done regularly, it will help you feel better in the short term, and studies show it may improve your survival longterm. There’s so much that we cannot control, in the world and in our own bodies, but we can take control of the things that we can change, and take concrete actions which can improve things a little bit. And a little bit is better than none. And sometimes adds up to big improvements.
A couple years ago, when I was running a 4-day stage race in the Indian Himalayas, I had the pleasure of meeting a man who exemplifies what I’m talking about. My friend Shreekanth was always looking around him for ways to make the world just a little better. He approached each day with gratitude for all the good things in his life. And each day, he strove to take small actions that made the world or someone a little better. I wrote a post about all the runners – their strengths, and what I learned from each of them. He’s been on my mind a lot this last week. No, his approach will not fix the whole world, but it certainly won’t hurt it.
You can read the whole post here. But the following is an excerpt – meet my friend Shreekanth.
~Shreekanth: the oldest among us, from Mumbai. Shreekanth was consistently last. He was also consistently the gentlest and happiest of us. Whether he was running or walking, fresh or tired, Shreekanth had a smile on his face. He approached each run with gratitude. It gave me great pleasure knowing that, no matter how slow or tired I may be, Shreekanth was somewhere behind me, smiling and taking in all the beauty around him. And along the way, he picked up trash. Each day he would come in and empty out his pack of other people’s garbage. Spurred on by his example, we all began to pick up trash along our runs. He cared nothing for his race time, only that he enjoyed his time racing, and that he left the world a little better, a little cleaner than it had been.
Although I would like to be a better, faster runner, and want to learn what lessons I can from these other runners, the person I wish to emulate most is Shreekanth. I wish we all could be a little more like Shreekanth – grateful for every moment, and doing our best to make the world just a little better than we found it.
Be good to each other. Make the world better. Or at least don’t make it worse.